Burning Bridges: An Interview With Doug Stanhope
Doug Stanhope is notorious for being a guy who doesn’t put up with any bullshit when it comes to his interviews and his comedy. So when I got a chance to talk to him about his ridiculously funny new CD/DVD Oslo-Burning the Bridge to Nowhere, I was kind of scared.
Truthfully, the thought of having someone I respected so much tell me off for being a jabroni didn’t seem that appealing. That aside, I couldn’t turn down a guy who is one of the most honest and brash comedians working today (It doesn’t hurt the fact that “Oslo” is already being spun like crazy on my iTunes). I did my homework and was pleasantly shocked to find out for all the hard-ass persona Stanhope can give off, we gelled pretty well. We talked about his new album, his views on comedy and society, and talked about booze, chicks, and cigarettes. Enjoy.
For a guy who hates doing recorded stuff, what made you agree to record this show…in Oslo?
There was no time to sweat it, or overproduce, or over-rehearse it. It was such a weird gig anyway. Not only just the English-as-a-second-language, but also the venue and the camera guy, we were already set up to shoot with him on my previous CD, and he was the guy who came through for this show.
What’s harder? Performing for American audiences, who can be kind of stupid, or performing in other countries, for people whom English is a second language.
It’s far easier to work with the stupid, that’s an easy one. You forget, when you’re in the Scandinavian countries, you forget they don’t speak English first and they speak better than I do. I just got done with a tour of the UK, and now everything is cake. After that, everything is so easy to be here. You know when you get onstage that they’re going to get all the references, you don’t need to go over all your material before you go on to make sure it’s something they understand and fits them or their culture. I love stupid Americans, God bless them.
Yeah that’s something, because there were man tracks on Oslo that were hilarious, but it seemed to take the audience a few beats to get it sometimes.
Even in the UK, where English is the first language, they’re so reserved and polite. You go over there and you think you’re dying on your ass, getting pneumonia from the nerves. But then it’s the end of the night and you get a standing ovation, and you’re like, “what the fuck was that?” Just because they’re not pumping their fists and hooting all the time.
Would you rather play to a drunken crowd or a sober crowd?
Drunk. In fact, on this last tour there were a few theaters where people weren’t allowed to bring in alcohol. After 10 minutes I noticed a totally different feel to it, and I looked down and realized no one had cocktails. I can’t watch comedy without drinking. I can’t do comedy without drinking; much less watch someone else do it.
I don’t know, for a good comic sometimes I want to stay sober to take in everything they’re doing. No offense, but I could never watch you drunk because there’s so much shit going on.
Guys like [Dave] Attell that have so many jokes within jokes and you’re just howling from beginning to end. And you come out saying, “I could never repeat any of those jokes he did, I just know that it was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” There’s just so much involved with it.
You’re a tour guy. Did you ever want to be a resident comic, like in Vegas? Or do you just like being a nomad?
I just get creeped out. The idea of that is somewhat pleasing, not having to travel. But I couldn’t play the same room; in my head, it would be the same people. I have that problem, I’m playing Caroline’s next week and after six shows, I’m going to just be forcing material, because in my head, it’s always the same crowd. Even if it’s just the same waitress. Like they know I’m a fraud. That’s one aspect of stand-up comedy; the audience thinks you’re coming up with stuff off the top of your head. There’s nothing worse than those nights where people stay around for the second show. They thought you were winging it.
What do you think about the “clean” or “family comedians” who do tours because they’re in the “middle of the pack”?
I have nothing against comedy like that. There are guys that do it well; I think Jim Gaffigan is hilarious. There are other guys that are more middle of the road and they just suck. But I don’t see much comedy anymore; I’ve been living down in the desert the last 6 years and playing mostly rock and roll clubs. So I don’t really see much unless it’s on TV. And I don’t watch Comedy Central, it’s just fucking awful. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a good comedian on Comedy Central. But I don’t really watch.
Do you feel comics have any kind of social responsibility and talk about society and its problems?
Not at all, I don’t think they have any responsibility. Comedy is a default art form, and if you want to talk about things that “have substance”, it’s not like you’re changing anything. By the time anyone comes to a comedy club or sees a comic, they’ve already made up their mind about most stuff. It might reinforce stuff for people who believe you.
You were a pretty big Libertarian, and you supported Obama. Do you feel you’re changing as you get older?
I find myself not giving a fuck more. To a fault. I went through a period of absolute rage with the powers that be, and nothing’s changed. All those topics are still out there, still in the news. They really don’t affect my life. I don’t wake up in the morning screaming, “get our troops out of Afghanistan!”
What if CNN or Fox News called you to be a commentator, would you go on?
I doubt it. What I’ve said in my act is pretty much the depth of my intelligence on those matters. I’m not a guy who can sit down and discuss things like Bill Maher. I usually talk about something as a reaction to something shoved in my face. Every time you put on the news, if I’m talking about Libya, it’s not because I’m a Middle East conflict expert. It’s just because of the redundancy in the news.
If there was one problem with the country…
Overpopulation. I was answering before you were done.
I was going to ask in comedy, in life, in general. Would you still say it’s overpopulation?
No, I would say the justice system. It’s just corrupt from the bottom up. Prison systems don’t work, they work against what they’re supposed to be doing. They breed harder criminals, they’re not rehabilitative at all, they’re expensive. The court system is fucking corrupted. Whoever celled it the “best worst system”…that’s not something you should settle for. Yeah, overpopulation is not so much a country thing as it is a world thing.
Public stupidity, that’s another one I’d say.
That’s a topic I never let die in my act, it’s not just overpopulation; it’s that feeling of entitlement. You think you’re due because you have kids. Someone just posted on Twitter, “public schools can no longer say Easter eggs, they have to call them holiday eggs” or whatever. Why would you ever have to say Easter egg in public school anyway? You’re teaching children and preparing them for life. The fucking whole public school system is set up as a babysitting camp so people can continue working, and to train your kids to sit still for hours and not talk back to authority. Why should I have to pay for that? And I’m not going to go on for hours about that.
Let me switch gears a bit; you signed to Roadrunner Records, which is known for it’s hard rock and metal acts. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the comedians Jim Florentine, or Don Jameson, both whom just signed to Metal Blade. What do you think of comedians being signed to metal labels?
I don’t think anyone buys the product because of the label. I think it’s great, it’s a nice fit on paper, but I think I could be on Nickelodeon and the same people would still buy my records.
Do you think there’s any kind of association this puts on you? Like, if you were on a hip-hop label, would it make you known in that world? Do you think the metal community is more accepting of comedy? At least your kind of comedy?
I’m completely unequipped to answer that question. I don’t really know what the label does. I know they put it out there and get it in stores, but them being a metal label, is there a Roadrunner Magazine I’m going to appear in? I don’t know if their other acts would affect whom I’m being brought in front of. I’m just happy to do it. I’m glad someone else is starting a comedy label that has some weight in the industry, so not everyone is signed to Comedy Central. I guess a label might steer me away; like if someone handed me a CD that said “Comedy Central Presents”, I’m going to assume it’s shit. So in that aspect, I guess the label does make a difference.
You mentioned that you play a lot of rock clubs and venues. Do you listen to a lot of music yourself?
I almost listen to no music unless I’m tripping. Or really drunk. I listen to CNN and NPR.
So you’re a news guy.
Yeah, and only really in the car. That’s the only place I really hear comedy stuff. I have an hour and a half drive to the airport from the desert when I travel. But yeah, I never listen to music.
Here’s a left-of-base question. I remember my first experience of you was when you hosted the last season of The Man Show. How many juggies did you sleep with?
Zero. They hated us, we earned it.
Ha! I was thinking more like, “all of them.” That was the answer I was looking for.
No, [Joe] Rogan was banging one. But the others were just such Hollywood clichés-not all of them, but some of them. I remember our first day on the set and they were being so silly and giddy. They kept asking, “where are you going to take us for the wraparounds?” The wraparounds, those were the “best of” shows at the end of each season, and I guess they would always go to some tropical location to film it. They kept saying, “oh yeah, I remember this time, we did this…” They kept asking where we were going to take them like, “Can we go to Tahiti?” and Rogan goes, “I’m taking you to a dump in northern New Jersey.” They couldn’t get producers to sign off doing it at a dump, so we did it at Catalina Island. And they were all happy at first until they found out we were filming it in the landfill. Trying to walk through all this garbage and trash in their high heels. They hated us.
I own a lot of The Man Show DVDs and I have to say you and Joe were much better in hindsight.
I think I still have the masters; I should leak them online. But just the few bits that didn’t make us sick.
You said you hated L.A. because there’s too much traffic and too many people, like New York. Is this still the reason?
I love when you read interviews and move on from them, rather than repeating them. So often you’re just doing the same interview.
The question I will never ask is “who inspired your comedy?” Because the answer is always “George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock…” It’s the worst question ever.
For awhile, I just found myself saying the first people I heard. But they were never inspirations; my inspirations are the people around me. Funny friends in my social circle.
Because no one grows up at 8 years old appreciating the wit of Lenny Bruce. No, you’re 8; you think poop and farts are funny.
I remember being a kid and repeating Bill Cosby stuff to my dad after they were playing the record. And they’d laugh, but I didn’t know what I was saying. It wasn’t an influence.
But do you still hate New York? You live in Arizona, that’s getting pretty filled up now.
I live in a town of 6,000 people right on the Mexican border. I’m 100 miles from the closest city or airport.
So you’re literally in bum-fuck?
I’m 25 miles south of Tombstone. It’s fucking great
Part of me always wants that, but part of me just hates the heat. Like, “fuck that shit.”
It’s also at about 5,000 feet elevation. So it’s a lot cooler.
That’s not bad then. I’m gonna give you the final two questions. Do you like Drambui? You mentioned it in the act and now all I want to do is drink Drambui.
I don’t think I’ve ever had it. It’s just a funny word.
It is. And the final question is, what is your favorite drink?
I’m a vodka guy at home. I just drink shitty beer on the road. When I’m on stage I drink beer or Jagermeister. Which I hate even saying. It’s a white trashy sounding cliché. But at least I can take shots of it and I won’t puke. At home I drink vodka and grapefruit juice.
Do you still smoke?
Yeah, I quit but then I started again for a few years. Now I’m quitting again, it’s really a health issue at this point. I have no wind, I’m coughing all the time, and I hear my lungs crackle like rice paper. In the morning, wheezing. It’s more of a quality of life issue. It’s a pain in the ass to smoke.
A lot of clubs are cracking down on that.
Yeah, you just go out and assume you can’t smoke now. I’m doing a show in a building where it’s 34 floors up, so it’s not like you can run out and have a cigarette. You have to wait for an elevator.
For your act, especially.
I can go an hour and a half onstage without a cigarette, but other places not so much. I’ve been fucking with those electronic cigarettes, and those are great. On planes and airport bars. Yeah they work real good.
And you don’t get any of the side effects of smoking because it’s just the nicotine. It just affects your brain.
You also aren’t smoking an entire cigarette. When you light a cigarette, you’re gonna smoke it till it’s gone. You don’t do that with an electronic cigarette.
They even have the flavored ones so you can party it up.
Yeah, for the kids.
We’d like to thank Doug Stanhope for taking time out to talk to us. You can visit www.dougstanhope.com for more information and tour dates. His new CD/DVD, Oslo-Burning The Bridge To Nowhere is in stores on May 3rd.